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SoxProspects News

December 14, 2015 at 7:00 AM

2015 Top 40 Season in Review: Nick Longhi and Wendell Rijo

This week, we recap the next six players in the season-end Top 40, going from 16 to 11. All entries in this year's Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.

#16 Nick Longhi, 1B/OF
2015 Team: Greenville Drive
Final stats: .281/.338/.403, 7 HR, 34 BB, 88 K 2015
Peak Ranking: 13 (Current)
Season in Review: 2014 | 2013
Huegel: With injury behind him, Longhi honing selective approach this spring
Dunne: System Restart, Outfielders
Hatfield: Notes From the Field, May 6
Podcast Episode 83: Longhi Interview
Cundall: Scouting Scratch, September 3

Season in Review: Longhi often seemed overshadowed on a star-studded Greenville roster, but the Springfield, Massachusetts-born prospect quietly turned in a solid 2015 season. Coming off a torn UCL in his thumb that ended his 2014 season after only 30 games, Longhi quickly put to rest any worries about potential rust or lingering effects. He opened the season with a 10-game hitting streak, going 16 for his first 41 at-bats with four doubles and two home runs. While he did not keep that torrid pace throughout the summer, Longhi finished the year with 124 hits and 27 doubles, good for fifth in the farm system in both categories. This all came while  being 19 for most of the season, making him one of the younger members of the South Atlantic League. He was the third-youngest position player to appear for the Drive in 2015, older than only Rafael Devers and Javier Guerra, and only 23 of Longhi’s 488 plate appearances were against younger pitchers.

If there was a negative to take away from Longhi’s 2015 season, it was the lack of the power that is expected from a first baseman or corner outfielder. He hit just one home run during a 75-game stretch between mid-April and late July, and his slugging percentage bottomed out at .378 on July 25. However, he hit four home runs and 11 doubles in his final 33 games while posting an August ground ball rate of 41.7-percent, significantly lower than his 51.9-percent mark for the entire season. Whether those improvements represent a sustainable adjustment bears watching heading into 2016.  - James Dunne

Scouting Report and 2016 Outlook: Though he just completed his third season with the organization, Nick Longhi is still only 20 years old and has made steady progress each season. Longhi has a strong, athletic frame, listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, and has shown potential both at the plate and in the field. At the plate, the right-handed hitter starts with his feet slightly open and hands high, utilizing a toe-tap timing device. He has strong bat-to-ball skills and a natural inside-out swing. He also knows the strike zone and has solid pitch recognition skills. Because of his swing, Longhi primarily works to center field and right field and makes a fair amount of contact on the ground. Longhi has shown above-average raw power during batting practice, comfortably clearing the left-field wall in Greenville, which mirrors the Green Monster at Fenway. However, in game action, he has shown more gap than over-the-fence power. 

Defensively, Longhi has shown the potential to be an above-average defensive first baseman and potentially average in right field. He split time between the two positions, playing 71 games at first base and 50 in right field this year. At first base, he has shown soft hands, solid footwork, and quick reactions, comfortably handling throws in the dirt. Longhi has an easy plus arm that gets wasted when he is at first base. In the outfield, he looks comfortable, getting solid reads and showing decent range for someone his size. Whether he can continue to play there long-term, however, will be determined by how much more he grows and bulks up as he gets into his 20s. If he can continue to play both those positions that would be a big bonus for his long-term value as versatility is very valuable when you do not play a premium defensive position. As the corner positions are run-producing spots though, how Longhi’s hit tool and power develop will be the key to reaching his potential. He will start 2016 in Salem and look to be one of the anchors of what could be a very talented lineup with Devers and Yoan Moncada likely also bound to begin the season there. - Ian Cundall

#15 Wendell Rijo, 2B
2015 Team: Salem Red Sox
Final stats: .260/.324/.381, 6 HR, 15 SB, 34 BB, 94 K
2015 Peak Ranking: 12 (current)
Season in Review: 2014 | 2013
Fiorino: The Write-Up, March, 2015
Dunne: System Restart, Middle Infielders
Podcast Episode 85: Rijo Interview

Season in Review: It seems impossible that Rijo turned just 20 in September, as he now has 271 games played in the organization over three seasons and he has been ranked in the SoxProspects.com top 20 nearly as long. The youngest regular in the Carolina League in 2015, Rijo has seemingly already developed a veteran’s consistency, at least statistically. After compiling 104 hits, 27 doubles, 46 RBI, and 16 stolen bases with Greenville in 2014, he came back in 2015 with 105 hits, 27 doubles, 47 RBI, and 15 steals. Beyond that consistency, it was a year of somewhat under-the-radar, gradual improvement for Rijo, particularly in his contact ability. His strikeout rate dropped in each month of the season, from 25.3 percent in April to only 16.2 percent in August and September.

Another area where Rijo showed improvement in 2015 was on the defensive side. After committing 21 errors in 2014, he slashed that total to 11 while also adding 12 more assists despite playing in 99 fewer innings at second base. Originally a shortstop when he signed to a $575,000 bonus out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012, Rijo had seen exclusive playing time at second base until making four starts at shortstop toward the end of the season. Currently on the roster of the Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League, Rijo has appeared in only one game without getting an at-bat. - James Dunne

Scouting Report and 2016 Outlook: Given how young he's been for the level at which he's played in each of the past two seasons, scouting Rijo from the box score is arguably even more fruitless an endeavor than usual. His line may be somewhat uninspiring, but seeing him in person reveals an athletic player with both exciting tools and skills. The 20-year-old Domincan has a thin but solid frame, listed at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. At the plate, he has worked to cut down on what was once an extremely open stance with an enormous leg kick back to square. He now does not stand nearly as openperhaps one could now call it a "typical open stance"and his leg kick is probably about half as extreme as it once was, now more of a moderate-to-high lift. As a result, he has done a better job of getting his foot down and keeping his timing on both fastballs and offspeed pitches. In the past, the size of his leg kick gave him difficulty timing his hitting mechanics correctly in order to hit pitches of all velocities, and he could occasionally get caught out in front badly on breaking balls. He generates plus batspeed and does a good job making square contact. Although his power may play below-average in games at present, he has sneaky raw power and can really put a charge into the ball. As his body develops and he continues ironing out his hitting mechanics, he could grow into at least average power, if not slightly above-average.

Defensively, Rijo has the tools to be at least an average second baseman, but regular lapses in focus and the tendency to make plays more difficult than they are make his tools play down, and make it difficult to project him to be much more than average. He will do things like field routine ground balls off to the side or try to barehand balls needlessly, leading to errors in the worst case or unnecessarily close plays at others. He reportedly worked to clean this up later in the season, which he confirmed to me in an interview later in the year, and he committed just two errors in his final 68 games after making nine in his first 40, lending evidence to that narrative. His hands and range are probably about average for the position currently. His arm is strong, but his transfer is slow enough that he would have a hard time on the left side of the diamond. Rijo boasts plus speed on the bases, but needs refinement to become a potential stolen base threat. He may be a bit behind in that regard due to an ACL tear suffered before signing that limited his speed through his first professional season.

Despite his mental lapses on defense, Rijo does otherwise possess strong baseball instincts, likely in part because his father is a professional scout. If he continues to develop, it is not hard to project Rijo as a future regular at second base if all goes well, but he does still have developmental work to do to reach that projection. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox continue to push him aggressively—this past season, he would have been one of the youngest players on the Greenville Drive, but was instead one of the youngest in the entire Carolina League. Repeating Salem to start the year would not be out of the question, but with Moncada coming up behind him at the same position, Rijo's placement in Portland or Salem may unfortunately depend on what level Moncada is ready for coming out of the spring, and how long the Red Sox plan on him spending there. - Chris Hatfield

Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor